Tag Archives: Hurt

Life Lessons from Dogs

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We own 3 dogs, each one of which is unique in their own way and teaching me different things. Cookie, my dog, we got before Christmas last year. (That’s her in the pic.) Some friends of ours had more dogs than they could now take care of and she needed a home. We were told that she had probably been abused sometime before they got her. She whined about everything. She was always needy, always right up in your space. I figured there was nothing wrong with her that a little time and love couldn’t fix.

In reality, my reasons ran a little deeper. After all that we went through last year by the time we got to Christmas I felt broken inside. I guess I figured that if I could fix Cookie then I could fix myself as well. If there’s hope for one of us then there’ hope for both, right?

It never happened. Sure we fixed a few minor things. She had to learn to come when we called for her. But the deeper things never went away like I thought they would.

Working nights meant I was home during the day a lot over the past couple of months. About two weeks ago we had this really bad storm come through, and let me start by saying that Cookie hates storms. She came up to me shaking, with this look on her face that said I wish I didn’t do this but can’t stop it. It made me realize that she is who she is and I am who I am. I told her as much, and since that day she’s opened up to me. She’s been more loving, more playful, and a lot less worried about everything.

If you’ve been around the church much at all odds are good you’ve heard this one, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We Christians love to talk about ourselves as “works in progress,” the idea being that we have certain behaviours that have to go and Christ is helping us do that. He’s the one fixing us, so to speak.

If you’ve read enough of my posts here you’ll know that I’m going to disagree with that, but first let me say that I am not for a moment overlooking that we all have our rough edges. If you’re like me and have a temper from time to time it’s a noble thing to reign that in. All I’m saying is that maybe what Paul is getting at here goes deeper. Maybe it’s less about fixing ourselves, or having Christ fix us, and learning to love ourselves as we are. After all, he already does.

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You Don’t Know

1So I started working all overnight shifts in the grocery store last week, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot in a very short period of time. For example, I’ve learned that if you want your life to include anything other than the cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat while working nights then you’re pretty much always tired all of the time. (Like right now, for example, I should really be sleeping.) I’ve also learned that when the store is open 24 hours you get a lot of interesting people who only show up after midnight. I’ve seen Jpeople of all ages shopping in the wee hours of the morning, from young people to the elderly and even parents with young kids.

I’ve also learned how easy it is to assume that I know someone’s story. Take the parents with young kids. These people coming in that late on a school night gets me wondering, you know? “What the hell are you thinking?” is usually what comes to mind, which is then followed with, “Don’t you know better?” At that point I usually assume the moral high ground thinking that they should know better and are therefore probably bad parents.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t know why they brought their kids that late at night. There are any number of reasons for parents and kids to be in the store that late. When I worked childcare I learned that there are a lot of parents out there working what can charitably be called shitty hours. Maybe that late at night is the only time they can get to the grocery store. Maybe they can’t afford a sitter. Ultimately, I don’t know the story of anyone who shows up in my store.

Here’s the thing. How often do you make assumptions like this? And not just with complete strangers but maybe with people you know and love? It’s so easy to assume that we know someone, or that we know why they did what they did or said what they said. We just make an assumption, and then we write them off.

In Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There’s a lot we could discuss from this passage, but the point I want to make is this. How close to someone do you have to be to even notice a speck in their eye? How much else do you see that you look past just to notice whatever the speck may be? In assuming, in judging, we overlook so much else to focus in one insignificant thing. 

If you don’t know, it means you don’t know. If it bugs you enough, ask them about it. If it really is insignificant, just let it go. The people in your life, and in mine, too, will be better off for it.

An Open Letter to All Those Attending the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

AM17-logoMy name is Mike Shewfelt. I am an ordained minister with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I work with Church for Misfits, a small online community dedicated to reaching out to those marginalised by mainstream Christianity in this country. Through this ministry I have been privileged to get to know many members of the LGBTQ community. I am also aware that the Convention as a whole does not view these people in a favourable light and, furthermore, that much of what is discussed and decided upon by you at the Annual Meeting will have an impact on these people. For all of those reasons, we need to talk.

Let me begin by saying that I understand both the Convention’s general position on matters relating to the LGBTQ community and the logic behind it. To summarize as I understand it, we think they’re living in sin and for that reason being at all charitable towards them would be blasphemous on our part. We don’t accept their position on who they are. We don’t accept that they have rights just as we do. To do so would put us in a position we’re not going to get into and force us to answer questions we don’t necessarily have answers to. And I fully understand that for us these are not easy questions with easy answers. I have spent the last 18 months praying through these questions trying to find a position that both respects the authority of Scripture and respects the position of the LGBTQ community. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no condition put on that offer, and yet we can’t seem to stop putting one on the Gospel as far as the LGBTQ community is concerned. They are people, too, just the same as you and me, and the fact that I’ve had to spend 18 months praying through issues just to be able to treat them with basic respect and human dignity is pathetic. The reality that we as a Convention continue to refuse to do this is even more so. We are marginalising an entire group of people in this country because we can’t entertain, even for a moment, the thought that they might be people to, just as they are and without having to change to be accepted by God. (It should go without saying that no one should feel they have to change to be accepted by God because no one can be accepted by God on the basis of their own efforts.)

So here’s the deal. As messengers attending the Convention’s annual meeting, you have the opportunity to change that. Southern Baptist churches are largely autonomous, yes, but on an issue like this they will not act without the support of the Convention. Change our policies. Let these people into fellowship in our churches, just as they are and without any conditions. Stop pursuing religious liberty at their expense. Stop trying to take away their rights. The Church is now largely irrelevant in today’s culture. You want to change that? There’s how. And I am not asking you to go against Scripture. I am simply asking you to treat your fellow human beings, created in the image of God just like you and me, with the respect and love they deserve. You can chose to act in a way that gives hope to this community.

You can also choose to double down on our traditional positions. Our stance is such that for many of us the questions raised by the LGBTQ community are ones we’ve never even had to consider. This can be a scary thing, one that keeps us from engaging with those we’re supposed to love the most. I would plead with you not to let that fear continue to drive our actions. If our God is who He says He is, what do we really have to be afraid of? If you choose this route, however, be aware that you will not only shatter whatever little credibility we have left in this country but you will also inflict even more hurt on those who have already endured far too much suffering at our hands.

The choice is yours. I can only hope and pray you will make the right one.

In Christ,

Reverend Mike Shewfelt

It’s Not Over Yet

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One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

No Place Like Home

In Luke 9:58, when a man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus responds by stating that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now I’ve read that passage dozens of times, and heard it preached on once or twice, usually in the context of trying to explain the cost of following Christ. The entire end of this chapter actually explores the concept and it’s really quite fascinating, especially from a literary point of view. We get these 3 little snippets of conversation, without being told anything about who it is that’s talking to Jesus or how they respond to what he tells them or even why they say what they do in the first place. All we get, really, is the interaction. But I digress.

I’ve usually taken this particular verse in the sense of if I was ever a missionary in some foreign place then I might not necessarily have a pillow or a bed or whatnot. I’d have to make do with whatever I could find. What got my attention here, and what I want to point out, is in the first part of the verse. To a fox and a bird, a hole in the ground and a nest aren’t just a place to sleep at night. They’re home. They’re a place of relative safety, a place to raise your young. The human equivalent might be a place to be yourself. A place where you can relax, let your guard down, and check your worries at the door. As you might imagine, this isn’t just a physical place but an emotional one, as well. Home is where the heart is, right?

Here’s the thing. We’re not promised any of that. That’s what Jesus’s statement is meant to convey to this eager young man. If Jesus himself never had that, how can we expect to? And I don’t say that to burst your bubble or point you to some “super spiritual” wisdom. It’s meant to be a comfort in addition to a challenge. If you find yourself in a place where you’re not understood or not welcome, or where you’re alone, you’re in good company. And it’s probably not your fault, either. We are, after all, always going to be outcasts in this world. Only when we finally reach heaven’s shores will we truly be home. Until that day, don’t lose heart. You are not misunderstood or unwanted, and you are never truly alone. You are known fully and loved deeply by the one who died just to be with you and who, if you are willing to trust him, will be waiting for you there with open arms.

An Open Letter to the Churches and the Leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention

Following the Pulse massacre in Orlando last year, I reached out to the LGBTQ community through an open letter published here. The deaths of those 49 people prompted a flood of support from the Christian community as a whole, but I had trouble with the actions of my fellow believers both because it took the deaths of almost 50 people to get us to show love to the LGBTQ community and because, not long after the event had faded from the headlines, we returned to our usual less-than-charitable stance towards this community as a whole. So I reached out then, and I have continued to reach out, to try to show these people who Jesus really is and that they matter to Him. It has been a difficult thing to do, at times, as we as Christians have caused them a great deal of hurt. I was, however, privileged to get to know various members of the LGBTQ community through social media, and even more privileged to be allowed in to begin to understand their hopes, fears, and hurts. With that as a background, I now want to reach out to the denomination in which I was ordained.

The conversations I have been privileged to be a part of have given me much to ponder. Our two groups can and do disagree on much, yet a constant theme was the pain that we as Christians have caused. In responding to that pain I was forced to reflect on my own worldview, and that process has brought me to examine the Southern Baptist Convention’s official position on these issues. It is to that position which I would like to now speak. To put it bluntly, I am concerned that in being so zealous to defend the authority of Scripture we are in reality making mistakes which cause us to fail the very lost people we claim to be most concerned about.

I disagree with much of the Convention’s official position on these issues (can we, as but one voice in this culture, really say that the government’s adopting our beliefs on same-sex marriage is for the public good?).[1] There are two mistakes in particular that I wish to address. The first mistake we are making illustrates the real-world consequence of the overzealous commitment to Scripture which I believe we as a denomination have at present. Before examining that in detail, however, I would first like to state that I share a commitment to Scripture as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. That being said, when such a commitment is devoid of compassion for the lost it does little more than turn them off to the Jesus we represent. Allow me to explain. In a resolution published in 2012 entitled “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ and Civil Rights Rhetoric,” representatives of the Convention stated, “we deny that the effort to legalize ‘same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender,” and furthermore, “[we] oppose any attempt to frame ‘same-sex marriage’ as a civil rights issue.”[2] These statements are rooted in an error on judgement on our part. The term “civil rights,” by definition, refers to having the freedom to live your life as you see fit. The members of the LGBTQ community should have, by that right, the same freedom to be themselves that you and I enjoy in this country. That alone makes same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, one that we refuse to respect. I have to contrast this stance with our stance on religious liberty, which as the same resolution outlines we do see as a civil rights issue and are willing to fight for. In short, we appear to be willing to fight for our own rights but not those of others, and that is a problem. (The Golden Rule apparently doesn’t apply anymore.)

I have to also say that, while I explicitly disagree with that stance, I understand why we take it. Putting homosexuality into the same protected category, so to speak, as race and gender would put us into a theological quandary that we would very much like to avoid. If one can be born black, or born female, then adding homosexuality to that list implies that we believe on can be born with same-sex attraction, and even suggesting such an idea gives most of us pause. The biblical evidence points us to the conclusion that same-sex attraction is a choice, and if Scripture is wrong about that then what else is it wrong about? And so out of fear of that slippery slope, we avoid the issue altogether and double-down on our biblical argument, all the while either not caring about the hurt we cause or being unaware of it.

I say unaware of it because that’s what I believed at first. In the conversations I’ve had with members of the LGBTQ community, the question, “Why do you people hate us so much?” has come up a lot. Truth be told I didn’t really have an answer for it. Christians do attack the civil rights of these people, that much is clear, yet those actions do not reflect the Jesus that I know and so after stating as much in these conversations I would usually conclude to myself that the Christians involved are well-intentioned but very badly misguided. And then I came across the resolution mentioned above, where the country’s largest Protestant denomination spells out the logic behind denying a group of people basic human rights. If that’s not hateful, then I don’t know what is. We are not unaware of what we are doing. We’ve thought it through, enough to make it part of our official position on the matter, and that’s scary. In no manner could our position ever be construed as representing the Jesus of the Bible.

The second mistake we’re making has to do with what we are communicating to the world regarding LGBTQ individuals in general. Article III subsection 1 of our constitution states that “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse, homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.”[3] Furthermore, our list of position statements also states that “homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgiveable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals.”[4] Two aspects of this position are troubling. First of all, to sum up, if a group of believers is at all nice to homosexuals then they can’t possibly be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hate these people so much that not only do we not want them as members in our churches but we’ll kick out anyone who disagrees. Secondly, we are communicating to a group of sinners, the very people Jesus came for, that in order to be accepted by Him they must change who they are. Nothing in all of Scripture supports such a belief. In fact, the exact opposite is true. There is nothing any of us can do or change in order to make ourselves acceptable to God, and that is why Christ’s work on the cross is so necessary. In short, we can’t save ourselves no matter how much we change. The LGBTQ community, however, apparently needs to change in order to be saved. As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus takes us as we are. Why can’t we do the same for LGBTQ individuals?

My goal in raising these points is not to start controversy or to simply criticize the Convention’s position but rather to encourage Southern Baptists to think through how what we communicate to the world hurts those we are supposed to care about. And if you can show me from Scripture that my perception of the Convention’s position as outlined above is in error, by all means please do so. Too often in the last few months I have had to apologize for the actions of my fellow Christians. I would much rather be able to explain that we as believers are not actually doing the things we have been accused of. Sadly, however, my fear is that I am not wrong in this. My fear, ultimately, is that we are failing the very lost people we should be looking to bring to Jesus. (And please hear me when I say that I am not asking us to change our worldview simply to suit the beliefs of others. If, however, aspects of that worldview bring us to cause pain to others, and not because “they are blinded from the truth” or some other biblical excuse but simply because we have taken things too far, then that is a problem with our worldview and one that needs to be addressed.)

We as a Convention can do better in how we treat the LGBTQ community. Simply respecting their position on civil rights would be huge start, and one that does not have to pose any theological quandaries for us. How hard is it for us be respectful even while we may disagree? Just as importantly, we can act to welcome these individuals to fellowship in our churches and ensure that we no longer disown those Christians who try to treat them with love and respect. The people who make up the LGBTQ community are just that, people, like you and me. If for no other reason than that we owe them respect in our behavior. There is no Scriptural justification for doing otherwise.

In Christ,

Pastor Mike

 

[1] “The Southern Baptist Convention Passes Resolution on Gay Marriage,” Denny Burk, last modified June 16, 2015, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.dennyburk.com/the-southern-baptist-convention-passes-resolution-on-gay-marriage-sbc15/.

[2] “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ And Civil Rights Rhetoric,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2012, accesed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1224/on-samesex-marriage-and-civil-rights-rhetoric.

[3] “Constitution,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/

aboutus/legal/constitution.asp.

[4] “Position Statements,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp.

The Start of a New Year

happy-new-year2017-55           We don’t yet have internet service at our new place (props to Comcast for continuing to assert that our address doesn’t exist), which means that by the time I get to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi it’ll be after the New Year, but for now it’s still 2016. This week between Christmas and New Year’s always gets me in more of an introspective mood than other times of the year. It’s the great pause, you know? The excitement and buildup to Christmas have come and gone and the excitement of the New Year hasn’t come quite yet. For me it’s the time to reflect back on the year that was and to look ahead to the new one.

This past year sure was a fun one (and I mean that in the most sarcastic sense possible). My wife and I both took attacks and accusations in ways that I never dreamed we would ever have had to deal with and from people I never would have imagined capable of dishing out such hurt. I’ve found myself in these last weeks, now that we have some distance from all of that, tempted to shut down a little inside, to back off and hide a little from all that heartache. I mean, it’s one thing to be open and vulnerable when you know that getting hurt is a possibility, but it’s quite another to try to be open and vulnerable knowing full well what the reality of hurt feels like.

I’m also self-aware enough (I hope) to know that while isolation and solitude in the short-term may be healthy, in the long-term it can be dangerous. The question is what the hell to do with what I feel. This may sound rather pro-forma coming from a Christian, but I’ve been wondering recently how Jesus dealt with all the heartache he faced. Theologians tell us that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (although no one has yet figured out how that works; I for one believe a pretty good case can be made for the truth of that statement, but that isn’t the point here). According to the Bible, Jesus dealt with the same range of emotions and heartache and temptation that you or I or anyone else who’s ever lived has dealt with. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), for example, and he continually sought solitude as a means to recharge from ministering to those around him (Mark 1:35). The Book of Hebrews also tells us that he can empathize with what we go through because he was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, as John 18:15-18 shows, in his hour of greatest need Jesus was abandoned by those closest to him (and who among us hasn’t felt that particular pain at one point or another?) If you want more examples, you can look at the whole story of God reaching out to us. How many times have we rejected him? Grieved him through our actions? If, as Scripture indicates, he feels what we feel, then that rejection has to hurt. And yet he offers himself again and again and again, opening himself up, being vulnerable, reaching out to us in spite of the pain.

Here’s my thing, though. Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus hiding from this heartache. Never does he shrink back from it. The same can be said of God elsewhere in Scripture. And that leads me to the question I’ve been pondering the last little while. How exactly does he pull that one off? I mean, I deal with the rejection of people not understanding what I’m about with this site, for example. This is the South, after all, where unless you fit into a very particular box as a pastor, something must be seriously wrong with you. Jesus deals with a level of rejection that’s infinitely beyond that, and yet it never seems to faze him.

One possible answer to this is that being God somehow gives him a pass on the whole thing, yet that is problematic in view of the biblical evidence that he felt as we feel and was tempted as we are tempted. There must, therefore, be a different explanation.

There is one example from Scripture, in John 8 specifically, that may shed some light on this. Eight times in this chapter (verses 16, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29, 38, and 55) we get a glimpse into just how intimate Jesus’ relationship with God the Father really was. The gist of this chapter seems to be that Jesus and God the Father are one, and this comes out through a back and forth discussion of sorts between Jesus and different groups. Looking at it from a literary perspective, why not just use one example, or maybe two or three, to prove the point? Why have this lengthy discussion that brings out what is essentially the same response from Jesus seven different times? (Granted, this isn’t the sole focal point of this passage; I’m just trying to isolate one element of it.)  One thing that my seminary experience drilled into me is that the biblical writers, working under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, had the choice not just of what information to include in the biblical record but also of how to organize that information. When you come across repetition in Scripture, like the kind we have here, it’s in there for a reason.

So why, then, was it important to highlight the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father to this extent? Personally, I think it shows how he was able to live as he did. As we looked at above, he didn’t shrink back from anything, nor did he try to hide his emotions. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was such that he knew who he was and he knew that he was loved. As a result of that foundation, nothing could shake him.

Like I said, this time of year is one that I tend to not just reflect on the previous year but also look ahead to the coming year. I know I’ve said it before in other posts, but what this revelation keeps bringing me back to is that we’re not meant to live life alone. We need that same level of intimacy with God that we see in John 8. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open for us to have it. And I’m not talking about being more faithful in reading your Bible or making sure you’re in church every Sunday morning. If you read through the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ intimacy with the Father ran so much deeper than surface level stuff like that. (I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves; I’m just saying we can’t stop there.) As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, God has set eternity in our hearts. There’s a longing there, a longing for our real home and intimacy with the one we were made for, and if we’ll follow that we’ll find him. It may be in the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of the stars on a clear night, or the touch of the one you love. He speaks to us all in ways befitting our own stories. All we have to do is listen. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to be at the start of a new year.

Do What You Do

shutterstock_250176199                It’s been a little over three weeks now since we finally moved into our new place, and I have to say that it still feels surreal. Moved in is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. As I’m finding out, this is very much a process. There’s always more to do, more to set up, more to unpack… At this point I think it’s safe to say we’ve gone through maybe 2/3 of our stuff. Maybe. At times it’s been overwhelming. The first couple of nights coming home from work, finding nothing but boxes in pretty much every room… How were we ever going to go through so much stuff? Where would we put all of it? When would this ever end? If you’ve ever moved before, I’m betting you’ve been there, too.

Last week the rain held off long enough for us to plant some new trees and doing so drove home to me that this isn’t home, at least not quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, I mean it has been wonderful having our own place. The freedom and the peacefulness out here have been worth all the headache and then some. Still, it isn’t quite home. We cleared most of the trees off the property before we moved the trailer out here, and as we don’t yet have grass, the trailer sits in what was a big ol’ piece of dirt. With all the rain, it’s now a muddy, swampy piece of land that feels like the edge of the known universe sometimes (at least the edge of our known universe).

Oh, and did I mention that we now have a mortgage? Which at about $50 000 is more money than either of us have ever had? Keep in mind that my day job in the child care field isn’t exactly one that you get into for the money. And speaking of money, why is it that there are all these tiny details that no one tells you about when you move in and you don’t realize you even need until you clue in that there’s not one of whatever it is in the house? Like I said, it’s been a little overwhelming.

The other day as I waited to pick up kids on my bus, I was flipping through my Bible and I came across a story in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles 19, to be exact. By this point in the biblical narrative, King David has been on the throne of Israel for a while and things have kinda, sorta settled down for the nation politically speaking. As the story opens, David has heard that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, one of the neighboring kingdoms, has died. Nahash is one who actually dealt kindly with David earlier in his life. (Different translations have “kindly” or “loyally,” which will give you the idea of how this particular king acted.) David returns the favor by sending a delegation to Hanun, Nahash’s son, to express his condolences. The Ammonite advisors take the gesture totally the wrong way, assuming that the delegation has come to spy out the land in preparation for an attack, and so they send the delegation home in disgrace. Realizing that doing so has royally pissed off Israel, the Ammonites then hire reinforcements from the smaller Syrian kingdoms and move to attack Israel (instead of apologizing, which as things turn out probably would have been the smart thing to do).

Through no fault of their own, the Israelites have just stepped in it. David sends Joab with all of the “mighty men” to deal with the threat, and as the battle unfolds, the Israelite army finds itself under attack on two fronts. What really caught my attention here, especially given my own circumstances, was Joab’s speech to Abishai, his brother. Joab has split his force in two to deal with both threats and given Abishai command of one element. After laying out his battle plan, Joab says in 1 Chronicles 19:13, “Be of good courage, and let us behave valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God, and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight.” We get the same story again in 2 Samuel 10, where it’s worded, “Let us play the men for our people….”

Here’s what I love about Joab in this. His force is under attack from two directions, which for a military commander is not a good place to be, but he’s not panicking. Instead, he’s extremely level-headed. What he’s telling Abishai is, in essence, “We do what we do best. We use our strength, and we use it on behalf of those who are depending on us. We do that, and we leave the end result up to God.” So much in this battle depends on Joab and his army, yet the end result is not in his control. At the risk of repeating it too much, Joab focuses on what he can do and leaves the rest up to God.

This particular story does have actually a happy ending. By the time the battle’s done, Joab’s army is victorious over the Ammonites and their Syrian allies. The Syrian kings who’ve been defeated send word to Hadadezer, king of the Syrians “beyond the river,” who calls out basically the entire Syrian nation to attack Israel. When David hears of this, he gathers “all Israel” (which is biblical speak for “play time is over and I’m done messing around), and moves to meet the threat. When this battle is over, the Syrians have lost some 47 000 men and they are no longer much of a danger to Israel during David’s reign.

I take comfort in the fact that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes. There are days (or weeks, or months), where like Joab we end dealing with a lot more than we bargained for. I am painfully aware that paying off our mortgage requires having a steady income. That means getting up and going to work every day, which I do, and taking better opportunities if and when they come along. That being said, there is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can guarantee a steady income for the next 20 years without any bumps in the road. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. We could get pregnant, or I could end up in a car wreck, or I could lose my job. I have no control over that, which is something I’m learning to accept. I am oh so slowly learning to do what I do best at work, and then come home, relax, and go to sleep. Kind of like Joab’s attitude, you know?

Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, I’d encourage you to approach whatever it is you’re dealing with from a similar angle. God is there, even if you’ve never approached Him before, and He will handle what you can’t. So do your best, do what you do, and call it a day. Leave the rest up to Him.

Just One More Thing

broken-plate-a-broken-plate-5ykci2-clipartOne of the things you’re working towards when you move a trailer out to a piece of property is the inspection that gets you the Certificate of Occupancy. When you get to that point, everything else is done. The septic tank is in, your well is dug, and the trailer is set up the way the building code says it needs to be. Pass the inspection, you get the certificate and you can move in. Fail it and you’ve got more work to do on one aspect or another.

To make a long story short, our inspection was last Thursday, and I arrived out there after working the morning part of my split-shift to find the Certificate of Occupancy stuck in the backdoor. All we needed was the power hookup, and we were supposed to have that within 1-2 days of getting the company a copy of the certificate. So I drove the certificate out to the company office where they made their copy, and then we sat back to plan our first night in the new place which we had set for this past Sunday.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it hasn’t been quite that straightforward. Turns out there’s this thing called a “You Can Dig Locator,” which has to be done before they can hook up underground power. (It’s not needed for just connecting aerial wires, but we didn’t know that earlier when it might have been useful.) Once that’s called in, they legally have to wait 3 business days before they can dig, and the day it’s called in apparently doesn’t count. We thought this had already been done, and apparently so had customer service at the power company. In reality, we passed inspection last Thursday and the Locator wasn’t called in until the next morning. The bottom line is that it’s now been 10 days since we passed inspection and we’re still not living up there. (Although we did get to move our stuff in!)

The point to this is not to rant or just use the Internet as a place to vent and criticize this whole process. There are a lot of people working very hard to get us to the point where we’re actually living up there, and we’re grateful for everything they do. The point is to say that we all have those moments in life where something that we really hoped would happen, well, didn’t. Either it didn’t happen the way that we wanted it to, or it didn’t happen when we hoped it would, or in the worst case, it didn’t happen at all. More often than not there’s no real reason for it, either. Things just don’t come together the way we hoped they would. What’s made it difficult for us going through this process is that we’re new to all this. We understood the steps in the process before we started (or at least we thought we did), but what we didn’t know is that each step has its own collection of sub-steps, each of which has its own little difficulties and each of which has to be successfully addressed before moving on to the next. It’s been a case of “just one more thing” more times than I’d honestly care to count.

What do you do with those moments? I know from experience how easy it is to just lose heart, to say, “The hell with it.” It’s not that I don’t want it to happen, it’s just that it’s easy to think that it won’t actually happen, or that it won’t happen as soon as I want it to, or that it won’t happen the way that I want it to, and in believing any of those it’s easy to just stop hoping for it altogether.

In his Second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spends a lot of time discussing his work with them. This is perhaps the congregation for Paul, the one that gave him more headaches than any other. One of the issues Paul had to face here was so-called “super-apostles,” leaders who seemed to be genuine but who were more interested in using those in the city of Corinth for their own ends. (Think everything that’s true of the worst of the worst of televangelists.) Paul thus spends a lot of time in his letters to this congregation defending his own work and the reasons why he does what he does. After laying out in 2 Corinthians 3 just what it is he’s up to as a minister, and the reasons why, in 2 Corinthians 4 he talks about why he doesn’t give up. The interesting thing for our purposes here is that he twice uses a Greek phrase which different translations have either as “we faint not” or, oddly enough, as “we do not lose heart.” The first is in 2 Cor. 4:1 and the second is in 2 Cor. 4:16. Speaking not just as a Christian but also as a man and husband with responsibilities and who has to face the drama of daily living, if this guy knows the secret of how not to do what I spoke of earlier, I’m all ears.

There are two elements to this that shed light on what Paul is getting at, but first I want to know what sort of man we’re dealing with here. Has he led an easy life or a hard one? If it’s been easy for him, and there’s reason to think he’s full of it here, I’m not interested. Later on in this same letter, however, we get a glimpse at his story in his own words. In 2 Cor 11:24-28, he tell us, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” Being stoned or shipwrecked alone would be enough for me to seriously question what I had been called to do, but not Paul. In his own words, he does not “lose heart.”

And in case you’re thinking he made most of that up, the particulars missing here are largely filled out in the Book of Acts, written by Luke, who was one of Paul’s travelling companions through much of what was described in the above passage. If then Paul knows what he’s talking about, what was he getting at? How did he not lose heart?

The first question that we have to answer is what exactly Paul meant when he said that. The Greek phrase from which we get “do not lose heart” or “faint not” has as its meaning “to lose courage” or “to fail to try,” with the general sense being that if you don’t lose heart then you’re willing to try again (you have the courage to try again) even if it didn’t work out like you wanted the first time. In my case, for example, it’s a matter of still being willing to hope that we’ll be in our place soon even when things come up that may push that date off somewhat.

How does Paul do that? It ultimately comes down to what he knows to be true even if he can’t exactly see it at that particular moment. In 2 Cor. 4:16-18, he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” His outward circumstances, his “outward man,” may really suck, but inwardly it’s a different story. There is far more going on around us than we are sometimes aware of (the goodness of God being a great example), but that doesn’t make those things any less important. In fact, as Paul says, it makes them more so. It is partly through choosing to focus on these things that Paul is able to not lose heart. 

You’ll notice I said it is only partly through this choice he talks about. What I’m getting at is not a case of “suck it up and deal with it.” I’m not advising that we simply put on a fake smile and act like everything’s normal even when we’re dying inside. There is more than enough sorrow and frustration in this world to break your heart on a daily basis, and you only compound the damage if you refuse to even acknowledge it. No, there is more to Paul’s secret, so to speak, than what we’ve looked at so far.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” The “treasure” alluded to here is described in the previous verse as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” which in a nutshell is the relationship we can have with Jesus made possible through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. What’s really important here is the phrase “earthen vessels.” Growing up in the church, that’s one I’ve heard many times before. As it’s usually explained, it symbolically describes how we as humans are frail and prone to breaking. For the purposes of this post, I had a look at the phrase in the original Greek, and what it literally describes is a piece of pottery. If you’ve ever had a clay pot for your garden, or hell, a plate, then you’ll get the idea. Pottery, as strong as it may be, breaks if you push it to far (or, as I’m sure we’ve all found out, if you drop it). And therein lies the other part, the main part, of how Paul is able to not lose heart.

If you drop a plate and it breaks, you don’t curse the plate, right? You may curse yourself for dropping it, but you don’t blame the plate. That’s just what a plate does when you drop it. Due to what a plate, or other piece of pottery, is made out of, drop it and it will usually break. As humans, we’re the same way. Stretch us too thin or push us too far and we break. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether we’re talking emotional breakage or physical, it’s all a part of who we are. Given the right circumstances, we break or we shatter. It’s a reality of being human.

Look back at that passage one more time. Paul says we have this treasure in the breakable bodies that we do so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” That’s the source of Paul’s ability to not lose heart. We can’t do this life alone, and Paul doesn’t try to. It’s that relationship, and the power that comes from it, which renews him inwardly even as his whole world goes to hell.

Whether you’re reading this and you’re a Christian or not, I would put to you that we are not meant to do this life alone. We break, remember? And we need someone there to pick up the pieces, even if, no especially if, we have no one else to turn to. Trusting Jesus like this is not easy even for me as a minister, and it’s not something I’m able to do all the time or even consistently sometimes for that matter. It’s can be damn hard to give up control, especially when it’s something that I long for so much like my wife and I having a place of our own. What I do know is that it’s worth it. Are you willing to trust Him?

You do start to heal

broken-heart-wallpaper-hd-free-downloadWhen I wrote about a month back about the attack I went through over the issue of my hair and accusations of being gay (read all about it here), I concluded by saying that I would take it one day at a time, that hopefully I would come to a place where I could begin to feel whole again, to maybe (maybe) be able to forgive those involved and put it all behind me. To me, that means being out on our own again, and having the freedom to express my personality however I so choose.

I have to admit that I thought we’d be there by now. One of the things that I found comforting in trying to take it a day at a time (which I will also readily admit is not an easy way to live) was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be doing this for long. When I wrote about this back in September, we had found us a trailer to move out on our property (one that we can actually afford), and we were in the process of getting the loan approved to get that done. The guys at the place we’re working with told us it would be 3-4 weeks from closing the loan to actually moving in, and they had also told us more than once that the sooner we got all the required paperwork in to the bank, the sooner we’d get the loan closed. We got it all together in a week, and I figured add another week, two at most, to get the loan closed, plus another month to get it all set up and installed, and come the middle of October they’d be handing us the keys and we’d be moving in. At the same time, I get my hair coloured typically about every two months, which also happens to be around the middle of October, and I figured that the next time I wanted to do something with it, I’d have the freedom to be able to.

Well, it’s now the middle of October, and we’re still waiting on the loan to close. No word whatsoever on exactly when that will be, although we’ve been reassured several times that there’s nothing left to do with regards to closing the loan except sit down and close the loan. Throw in the 3-4 weeks to get the trailer moved and set up, and it’ll probably be nigh on Thanksgiving before we get the keys. Oh, and as I mentioned, I’d really like to do something with my hair again, but I can’t for fear of having a repeat of August and being forced to shave it off completely, or something similar, just to suit the whims of another. That may seem petty, or even a foolish concern, but as I’ve written about before, our personalities come out in how we choose to appear to this crazy world, and being told I don’t have that freedom is kind of like watching a moving with no sound and no subtitles. I’m still watching the movie, but it ain’t a hell of a lot of fun.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve gone from being royally pissed at this whole mess, to just plain sad, to royally pissed, to a numb sort of just whatever, and then back again. Two weeks ago we got a call from the company that’s going to drill the well saying they would start tomorrow, and I was ecstatic until we realised that the loan hasn’t been closed yet which means that this company wouldn’t get paid until it was. When that was properly communicated, the company backed down and, as far as I know, is still waiting for the go ahead.

It’s been, in a word, exhausting. This whole process of getting a place of our own seems to have gone on a lot longer than it needs to. I honestly think that it will be quite a while before we get out of here that this part of me begins to heal, and that’s OK. The funny thing is that, despite the situation a month after that last post not looking anything like I thought it would, that healing process may have already started, albeit just a little. It almost feels like sacrilege to write that, like I’m doing a disservice to the pain and heartache I still feel even now, two months after the fact, so please don’t take this the wrong way. I am NOT trying to gloss over how I feel, or suggesting that you do the same if you find yourself in a similar boat right now. I’m just observing that I’ve had moments, precious moments, where in looking in the mirror I haven’t seen someone else’s version of me. Just for an instant, I’ve looked in the mirror and gone “I know that guy.” And I treasure those moments. It’s like someone is seeing me for who I am and affirming what they see (maybe in a future post I’ll get into how Jesus does that for each of us), and that is so good. I managed to get it up in a ponytail the other day, and it was at the same time wonderful because that was the first time in two months I’ve been able to do that and so depressing because it was such a tiny ponytail compared to what it used to be. I guess this whole thing is a combination of the good and the really shitty, and while that might seem to be a contradiction, at least it’s honest. The point is that you do start to heal, even if it’s just in tiny ways and even if still hurts like hell.